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Comment author: artsyhonker 22 February 2011 11:17:42AM 3 points [-]

As a theist, I don't believe in God because I perceive some positive benefit from that belief. My experiences and perceptions point to the existence of God. Of course those experiences and perceptions may be inaccurate and are subject to my own interpretations, so I can't claim that my beliefs are rational. I accept on an intellectual level that my belief could be wrong. This doesn't seem to enable me to stop believing.

However, I am involved in a religious community because there are positive benefits -- chiefly that of being able to compare notes with other people who share my irrational belief in God and my desire to do good work in the world. I can see that there might be positive benefits in religious communities for non-theists, though I don't really see the point.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 30 December 2010 06:45:39PM 3 points [-]

As I said here: encourage people to develop social bonds to a community of secularists among whom altruist activities are highly valued, preferably one with mechanisms to prevent cheap methods for signaling altruism from displacing those activities.

I doubt religion per se has much to do with altruism. But religious communities are typically tangible and visible and persistent, and that's important for the transmission of values.

And, sure, encouraging people to perform acts that benefit others, even if they don't want to, is possible without dishonesty. Force is a popular alternative, for example... either physical or social. Whether that's a good thing or not is another question.

For example, many countries collect taxes from residents and use a significant share of those taxes to provide resources to citizens in need; many taxpayers don't especially value providing resources to their fellow citizens, but nevertheless pay taxes.

Comment author: artsyhonker 30 December 2010 09:20:09PM 1 point [-]

I'd quite forgotten about force.

I see a lot of activism that is carried out by groups which, if not specifically secularist, are not explicitly religious, but this tends to be single-issue stuff. Religious communities, in my experience, tend to teach on or examine or respond to every aspect of life (though it is debateable how successful most are, as there is nowadays the problem of people leaving if they don't like what they hear). Are there secular movements which attempt to be so all-embracing?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 30 December 2010 05:22:21PM 2 points [-]

For my own part, I'm inclined to call someone who derives significant warm fuzzies from helping others "altruistic", by comparison to someone who doesn't. I'll grant you that it might be more precise to say that they have altruistic values, rather than that they are performing altruistic acts.

Comment author: artsyhonker 30 December 2010 06:01:07PM 1 point [-]

That makes sense.

Assuming altruism in general is desirable:

  • how do we teach or pass on altruistic values outside a religious setting?
  • if this is difficult or impossible, is it better to convince people to perform altruistic acts even if that runs contrary to their values? Is that possible without an element of dishonesty?

I think religion can be a vehicle for the transmission of altruistic values, but I dislike the way it is often used to bamboozle people into behaving in certain ways (some of which, in more positive cases, are altruistic). I am also wary of some of the other values religion often transmits.

Comment author: Desrtopa 22 December 2010 06:41:35PM 16 points [-]

The fact that there is a huge amount of variation in the discomfort involved, and many women do not suffer particularly in the process, probably prevents too many people from concluding that the experience ought to be unpleasant. The fact that men don't have to deal with it at all, and it doesn't negatively impact their lives, also seems like an incentive against rationalizing it as positive.

Comment author: artsyhonker 30 December 2010 03:04:35PM 2 points [-]

Additionally, I don't think it's all that accurate to say that the incidence of menstruation was that frequent before birth control. My understanding is that bleeding during pregnancy is comparatively rare, though not unheard of, and that significant numbers of women do not menstruate or have a reduction in menstruation during breastfeeding. It is also my understanding that women have traditionally started reproducing not long after the onset of menstruation, or even sooner (the age of menarche appears to be decreasing, but pregnancy is possible prior to a girl's first period). If these understandings are correct I would expect that the modern Western experience of roughly-monthly ovulation and menstruation is rather novel.

Comment author: artsyhonker 30 December 2010 10:39:00AM *  21 points [-]

Train hard and improve your skills, or stop training and forget your skills. Training just enough to maintain your level is the worst idea.

Doesn't this depend somewhat on the relevance of the skill to the goal? My skills at cooking are reasonably adequate to the environment in which I live. I would classify them as better than average, but decidedly amateur. I don't particularly want to prioritise them over my skill at playing a musical instrument, for which I get paid, but I wouldn't like to lose too much of what cooking skills I do have as that would make my life more inconvenient, and certainly less enjoyable.

Within my work, musicianship can be broken down into a good many skills, all of which I need to maintain at their current levels to remain in employment, and some of which it may be worth my time and effort to improve. For my church job, if I were to try to improve my organ pedal technique at the expense of maintaining my ability to learn five hymns and two voluntaries per service to reasonable performance standard, I would not hold my position long. There is a limit to how much time I can spend practising each week, and so the pedal technique, while important, will progress more slowly than if I did not have to maintain my skill at playing manuals-only (as I am also a pianist this comes much more easily to me). When my pedal technique catches up with my manual technique I will be able to re-destribute my practice time to attempt improvement of both.

I'm having a hard time thinking of situations where there are no skills which are best kept at maintenance level, though it may be that for some people such extreme specialisation is efficient.

Comment author: Mass_Driver 23 December 2010 09:43:08PM 0 points [-]

I'm sorry, I didn't understand your last comment. Would you please try other words or phrases?

Comment author: artsyhonker 30 December 2010 09:07:40AM 2 points [-]

I think David_Gerard is getting at the point that because of interconnectedness, helping others also helps us. Mutual benefit is not the same as altruism, but a stronger awareness or understanding of it can encourage good acts.

If I hoover the living room, my housemates benefit more than I do from less dust, but I don't have to listen to them sneezing. If I shovel the snow off my neighbours' front pavement as well as my own, they (who don't own snow shovels) don't have to do it, but my post is easier to deliver. Goodwill from the postman goes a long way!The shelter I volunteer at makes some contribution to the safety of this neighbourhood. The money I send each month to a small school in Africa means the children who study there are less likely to be involved in violence which, while seeming far-removed from my life here in the UK, could conceivably have an effect. The idea that everything is interconnected, there are no externalities and the good of another really is to my benefit as well can be a strong argument.

It isn't altruism, though, as I understand it. Altruism is my doing these things even though the benefit to me is low compared to the benefit if I were to spend my time and energy and money elsewhere. As I also derive significant warm fuzzies and a small amount of good reputation from these actions I cannot claim to be truly altruistic, though I would like to think I am. If this is true of most idealists or altruists, I'm not certain the distinction matters.

My best guess as to how to systematically inculcate altruism is by practical, structured volunteering coupled with discussion. With a bit of luck the warm fuzzies should kick in. In London I thought the Unitarians were fairly strong here but ultimately the community was too small and not theist enough for my other requirements.

I have learned or "caught" warm fuzzies from others being kind to me even when the benefit to them was small. Many of these people are theists but a significant number are not. I submit that if altruism is contagious, then acting altruistically whenever you can may help encourage altruism.

Comment author: artsyhonker 29 December 2010 11:19:13PM 0 points [-]

In terms of the effect on others, I think this is very context-driven. Sometimes I am quite happy to be the brunt of a joke, other times not, and I wouldn't like to try to formulate a rule. I know that in face-to-face interactions I am least comfortable with jeering from complete strangers, and more kindly disposed toward those who I know well enough to jnderstand they don't mean to cause serious hurt, but there may be some bias there too in that those who care about me have learned which topics I find most hurtful and tend to avoid those. Online I generally take more care to avoid poking fun at others, but don't tend to react as strongly to others poking fun at me.

I do think that poking fun at others' weakness purely to make oneself look better actually makes one look rude, irrational and unkind. While I hesitate to label it "right" or "wrong" I would go so far as to say this behaviour is unwise if one values social status among people who in turn value politeness, reason and kindness.

Poking fun for other reasons (for example, to educate) can be less self-incriminating, but it is still going to be somewhat context-dependent. It is as well, too, to remember that our desired outcomes and the actual effects of our actions may not always match.

In response to I'm scared.
Comment author: artsyhonker 29 December 2010 10:11:13PM 1 point [-]

I think it's quite understandable to fear for your future based on the evidence presented.

I find the worst thing about such fears is the way they can detract from my ability to take useful actions.

I find one helpful method is to re-frame my thinking. No, I have no guarantee that everything will turn out "all right" for any given value of that. However, so far I have been through more than I once thought I could cope with. Am I unscarred? Certainly not. But I have work that I enjoy, people in my life I love and who care about me. I have food and shelter and access to reasonable medical care. I'm in a lot less physical pain than I was a few years ago, and more importantly have learned that pain, while unpleasant, is more tolerable than I had imagined. When I can appreciate how far I have come, the unknown territory of how far I have yet to go is less daunting. Sometimes if I'm really struggling I turn this into a written exercise.

The other thing I find helpful is to distract myself by getting really stuck in to work, to the point that worries about things I cannot control or predict get crowded out by more immediately topical concerns. I'm not certain this is wholly beneficial, but as much of my work is project-based it is moderately self-limiting. A variation on this technique is to go on holiday, if I can do so without seriously endangering work. The change in routine can be disorienting but sometimes seems to encourage me to think differently, perhaps because in an unfamiliar environment I must pay more attention to my immediate surroundings.

These are more pragmatic responses than rational, and your experiences may vary.

Comment author: artsyhonker 29 December 2010 08:40:01PM 2 points [-]

I certainly hadn't realised it was for formatting and might have had a look had I known.

Comment author: artsyhonker 29 December 2010 11:02:54AM 6 points [-]

I don't remember believing in Santa Claus. It was always a game to be played with grown-ups.

My experience of other children believing in Santa was very much one of them not quite realising it was a game, and my not wanting to spoil their fun.

Conversely, I did and still do believe in God, though again I have no memory of believing in the old man on a cloud version often given to children.

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